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It Could Have Gone Better · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Show rules for this event
The Dragon of Hoofholt
There once was a dragon who lived in a hill which it styled a mountain, at the base of which lay a village which it styled a city, filled with ponies whom it styled its subjects. Every month it would come amongst them and take whatsoever it wanted—food and valuables, and if the villagers lacked enough of either to satisfy it, then young fillies and colts, for it was ever in need of servants to shine its scales and marvel at it on command.

How long it had been thus, only the dragon itself knew—but years enough that its cavern filled with treasures, and its larder was never bare, even as the villagers grew ever more gaunt and miserable. Until one day a pony marched into its cave.

“Dragon!” she cried, “I come to challenge you!”

“Who are you, that speaks so boldly?” the dragon boomed, flexing its claws as it considered the best way to deal with this pest.

“I am Sweetroot, from the village of Hoofholt, which you hold in thrall. My stakes are my village! If I defeat you, then you shall trouble Hoofholt no more!”

“And if I win?” the dragon asked, its annoyance untempered, but its curiosity now piqued.

“If you win, then Hoofholt shall be yours.”

“You offer me only what is already mine,” the dragon noted, “But I accept nonetheless, for I shall find it pleasing to crush you. My only condition is that this challenge be to the death.” It smiled, thinking itself very clever. A pony might, perhaps, dream of winning a challenge of riddles against a dragon, but how could such a small creature hope to stand against it in deadly combat?

But Sweetroot was not deterred. “Very well, if you shall let me choose our weapon.”

“As you wish. It makes no difference how I slay you.”

“Then the weapon I chose is time. Let whomever is undone by its passage be the victor!”

The dragon laughed. “A tricksy answer. You think yourself wise, do you not? But you are foolish, indeed. A dragon lives ten thousand years or more! Will you live so long, little Sweetroot?”

“We shall see who the winner is,” Sweetroot replied.

And so the two settled into their great battle. Of course, as Sweetroot pointed out, the dragon could hardly continue its looting with its ownership of the village unsettled, and this seemed fair to the dragon.

But as the battle dragged on, the seemingly inexhaustible larder began to empty. So at Sweetroot’s suggestion, the dragon sent its servants to the village to bring back food. Yet since the colts and fillies could hardly compel the same submission the dragon itself did, Sweetroot proposed that they take a bit of gold from the cavern’s vast stores, and trade for the goods instead. The dragon acceded, the wisdom of her advice obvious. Nor did it object when she further proposed that those fillies and colts be sent home to their parents, on the condition that they return once a week to handle the shopping arrangements. After all, the benefit of having fewer mouths to feed was undeniable.

And when winter came, Sweetroot quite fairly noted that she could not bear the cold as well as a dragon, and that a bit more gold might be spent to bring her blankets and coats. For after all, the chosen weapon was time, and not temperature. And the dragon could hardly disagree.

And as months turned into years, and even the great store of gems with which the dragon sustained itself began to diminish, it was Sweetroot who observed that perhaps the dragon’s less consumable valuables could be traded at the village for precious stones. After all, one cannot eat paintings and pottery. And it was clear to the dragon that this, too, was true.

And so the years passed into decades, until at last Sweetroot grew sickly and frail.

“It has taken long enough,” laughed the dragon, “but finally you have lost!”

“Perhaps, perhaps,” answered Sweetroot. “Revel in your victory, if so you esteem it.” And having spoken those words, she died.

And the dragon looked about its bare, empty cavern.

At dawn, the dragon brought Sweetroot’s body down to the village. It demanded no tribute, seized no goods. It simply laid her down in the square, declaring, “Here lies the greatest of ponykind, who has defeated me in a battle to the death.”

And from that day forward, it troubled the ponies of Hoofholt no more.
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#1 · 5
· · >>Chris
A beautifully voiced little fable. The ending is subtle but not too subtle, given Sweetroot’s phrasing. A very nice way to start things off.
#2 · 4
· · >>Chris
Such a beautiful story and such beautiful wording.

It would take me hours to point out all of the great things about this story. Overall, simply amazing.
#3 · 2
· · >>Chris
This is great. I'd use a...

...to separate the two sections, but otherwise I have no suggestions.
#4 · 2
· · >>Chris


This is great. It's a deceptively clever fable that could've honestly been written several centuries ago and no one would tell the difference, and I mean that in the best possible way.

One could argue the MLP connection is tenuous because there aren't any characters from the show featured here, but honestly? There's nothing here that contradicts canon either. It's a fable that can easily take place in Equestria, so it does.

The prose? Near-flawless. I have a gripe or two about phrasing toward the beginning, but that's literally it. This shit is so tightly written and yet so unassuming about it that I'm actually jealous.

I was expecting the obvious twist, like Sweetroot killing the dragon in some ingenious way, but that didn't happen. What she did was way more clever, both in-universe and to the reader. The dragon even went through a discernible arc as a result.

And of course it goes without saying that the ending is a work of beauty. Just goes without saying.

I'm feeling a decent to strong 9 on this.
#5 · 2
· · >>Chris
>>Anon Y Mous

Alrighty then. Review Number One goin' up...

I regret being the dissenting voice here, and sure I might be missing something, but this doesn't quite do it for me. I like what you're going for, don't get me wrong; I think what you're going for is both that Sweetroot used trickery to "undo" all the riches and servants the dragon possessed, and that it would also be emotionally undone by Sweetroot's death, not its own. For the most part, I applaud the cleverness and the construction you've implemented.

Make no mistake; this is some excellent writing, and the character voicing is spot-on. I particularly liked the casual, slightly menacing way the dragon and Sweetroot negotiated over the terms, and the constant air of barely restrained menace behind cordial masks made for a compelling start. The fairy tale tone works very well too, providing a matter-of-fact approach that lets the emotion shine through without spelling it out for us (I like the implied remorse of the dragon at the end, or at least the definite tone of humbled defeat). So whatever else I say, the actual technical writing and flow is suh-weet.

What stops it short for me is the content. The actual twists and turns don't feel likely to me. In canon, dragons are exceptionally possessive of their hoard, to the point that one does a 180 on Rarity as soon as she proposes watching it, and another attacks Spike for daring to sample it. The idea of one actually giving some away, even for its own amused curiosity, never sits right with me, especially since it must cotton on to what's going on once the hoard is diminished a significant amount. Especially without any particularly strong emotional connection between the dragon and Sweetroot, I'm strained past personal suspension-of-disbelief when it comes to the ending as a result (it seems more likely the dragon would be ticked off by getting tricked, not humbled).

The other thing is that the "time" requirement feels too vague. Really, what's to stop the dragon killing Sweetroot and then claiming it was an agent of time? This is an issue in particular because the dragon actually saves Sweetroot partway through, and the reductio ad absurdum of that "time not temperature" thing is that literally no putative cause could be allowed to interfere with Sweetroot's life. People aren't killed by the abstract of "time"; people are killed by something. Even the elderly succumb to specific diseases and organ failure. It just felt too thin for me, so the dragon's implied arc feels rickety as a result.

I'd put this as a solid entry. Despite my problems with the twists and logic of the plot, this still feels like a professional work, well-constructed in the abstract and with an exceptionally comfortable and nigh-effortless writing style.
#6 · 3
· · >>Chris
(Note that I normally don’t review pony stuff, and I don’t vote on pony rounds.) I will double down on what BCVI said. First, that apologue doesn’t feel pony at all. There’s a veneer of it, but replace the pony by a normal human, and you get the same flavor. It’s more of an aesop than a true pony story.

But even then I can’t help but thinking this sounds like a rip-off of some eastern fable I’m not aware of, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find the like of it in a Chinese or Japanese folktales book. And it is quite cliché, with the rich, evil and dimwitted dragon and the poor, benevolent and shrewd pony. Ergo, the morals here pretty predictable from the onset. Not even to mention how unrealistic is the change the dragon undergoes from a feral beast to a total pushover.

Kudos for the prose, though.
#7 · 1
· · >>Chris
Interesting. And unusual in its manner, given that it interprets the dragon as reasonable from the get-go. Still, I find it creative enough in concept and moral. I'd like to see someone take this idea and turn it into something much bigger, a multi-chapter story that lets us get into the dragon's and the pony's heads so that the events feel less contrived.

Despite my hesitation to praise it to high heaven, it's certainly a solid entry and the best one I've read so far.
#8 ·
· · >>Chris
This feels like one of those old timey fables. Lessons to be learned, and sacrifices to be made.
#9 · 1
· · >>Chris
Wonderful fable, however, I get the feeling that something is missing. That the end was on the rushed side. Regardless, still top-tier work.
#10 · 1
· · >>Chris
Genre: Medal Bait

Thoughts: Complete story that doesn't feel rushed or crammed into the word count? Check. Strong writing and readability? Check. Good hook, feels, and payoff? Check. So basically, this is some very high-tier work.

There's a part of me that wants to ding this slightly for its limited use of the Pony milieu. I mean, yeah it's ponies and a dragon, but it wouldn't have to be ponies and the story would still scan 100% regardless.

But y'know, that's just nitpicking.

Tier: Top Contender
#11 · 1
· · >>Chris
Not mine. But I wish it was. (heart)
#12 · 4
· · >>BlueChameleonVI >>BlueChameleonVI
The Dragon of Hoofholt Retrospective

Hey, my fic won! Cool!

Despite the generally very positive comments here, I'm a bit surprised; I thought there were several better stories than mine this round (Soft Stitches, especially; shocked that didn't get a medal), and in the chat when people were sharing the top of their slates, I couldn't help noticing that my fic wasn't on most of the sharers' lists. So, a pleasant surprise!

I originally conceived this as a significantly longer fic that, while still probably "bittersweet," would've been more on the "sweet" end. In that conception, Sweetroot's plan wasn't to impoverish the dragon, but befriend it (ponies, amirite?) while, if nothing else, stopping the raids for a few decades. And after she died, the dragon would realize that it had come to value having human equine company more than treasure, and would go to town and sort of reluctantly say that he'd won the battle, and now he was going to go back to taking whatever he wanted... unless, maybe, someone else wanted to challenge him? And then it would start a long tradition of ponies "challenging" him as his ego-saving way to be friends with the villagers.

Wasn't gonna work in 750 words, obviously, so I streamlined it quite a bit. I might try to write the expanded version, or I might leave this essentially as-is; I'm pretty happy with the concept I settled on, too. Thank you all for reading, for the comments, and for everything! Congrats to Skywrite and Miller for their medal-winning (and medal-worthy) fics, and special shout-out to Rocket Lawn Chair for writing my personal favorite story from this round. And, sincerely, to everyone who wrote something this round; there's lots of good stuff here, from top to bottom.

>>Anon Y Mous

Thank you all very much for your comments! Every time I hit the "refresh" button and saw a notification come up than one of you had commented, it made my day a little brighter.


It was, originally! But [ hr ] turns out to count as a word, so I'd have needed to shave one more word off this fic if I didn't change it to a weak break.

Ah, the joys of being a couple dozen words over the limit when you finish your fic...


I guess my reasoning for the dragon's logic re. giving up riches and "playing fair" is twofold. First, most dragons in FiM seem to be pretty dumb egotists :P And second, given that this is styled as an Equestrian fable rather than a history, I felt that casting it (and Sweetroot) in more archetypal roles was appropriate.

I can see why that would trip up a reader, though. Thanks for the insight, and I'm glad you still felt it was a solid work despite that!


I can definitely see this being an original fic with minimal adaptation. I feel like my original idea (above) was more thematically "pony," but honestly, that wouldn't have really been FiM-specific either. FWIW, though, I conceived it as a ponyfic; it wasn't a "wedge it into the setting" story, so much as a "now that I think about it, this is a very flexible fic" one. On that note, while I certainly wouldn't be shocked if there were some folktale with a similar series of events to Hoofholt, it's not one that I'm familiar with; this fic wasn't based on anything specific, even if it sounds like it might be (which, if you think about it, is almost a compliment!).

Thanks very much for the comment, and I'm glad you at least were able to enjoy the prose!


The "genre" cracked me up. Thanks!
#13 ·

"First, most dragons in FiM seem to be pretty dumb egotists :P"

I am remembering that first adult dragon from "Dragonshy", whom Rarity charmed by playing on his vanity. But since that's also the scene where he does a 180 as soon as she offers to guard his treasure...? The only other egotistical example I can think of is Garble, who doesn't seem to have his own dedicated hoard as far as I know, so the jury's out on him.

"And second, given that this is styled as an Equestrian fable rather than a history, I felt that casting it (and Sweetroot) in more archetypal roles was appropriate."

I guess, though I'm not entirely sure if the "outwitted monster" archetype fits the dragon's ending, or if I've got the wrong archetype here. I'm not saying the fable isn't going for something clever. It is. It's just that, to me, this doesn't add up to that ending, at least not without further clarification.

Again, I'm lecturing a medallist, so here's your pinch of salt, free of charge.
#14 · 1

Oh, where are my manners? Congratulations for winning the gold medal!